In 1989, Ken Dodd was taken to court on 11 charges of tax evasion. With George Carman QC as his be-wigged stooge, the comedian’s subsequent performance would - as documentary Ken Dodd in the Dock proves - involve more than tickling sticks and Diddy Men.
Chances are, a man who earns his crust through waggling feather dusters and gabbling whimsical gibberish through teeth that look like vandalised tombstones is not going to lead a normal home life. And Dodd’s home life, as revealed to the stupefied Liverpool jury, was as bizarre as they come.
Carman, playing on his client’s eccentricity, suggested the joker’s gross fiscal oversights were a by-product of the scatterbrained chaos of his everyday existence. In an effort to enhance this gambit, Carmen produced a video of the comedian’s Liverpool home. This, it was hoped, would reveal the extent of Dodd’s disorganisation, leaving the jury in no doubt that the buck-toothed japester was barely capable of making his own bed, never mind dealing with the micro-printed minutiae of an income tax form.
The video was shockingly explicit. It showed Dodd’s house bursting with showbiz memorabilia, with tickling sticks littering the rooms and a pantomime horse taking pride of place in the hall. This was the house of a lunatic.
As the trial progressed, Carman continued to play the sympathy card, drawing heavily on Dodd’s charity work and his tragedy-peppered personal life. He had grown up in poverty and, wary of banks, had become obsessed with frugality, storing his money in shoeboxes under his bed. To soften some of the more shocking revelations (the comedian insisted on being paid partly in cash, and also claimed his lies to the Inland Revenue were the result of "confusion over bank adverts"), Dodd began to joke with the jury while in the stand, peppering his testimonials with light-hearted anecdotes and gags. The judge was frequently forced to remind the King of the Diddy Men the court was "not a music hall".
As the trial wheezed to its conclusion, revelations of Dodd’s fiscal impropriety had been all but forgotten. Details of his many "cash and carry" trips to overseas banks (he had no less than 20 offshore accounts) and repeated lies to the Inland Revenue were swept under the carpet with an enormous tickling stick. Such details began to seem like rude intrusions, boring trivialities that only interrupted the fun.
The verdict was not guilty. Ultimately, it was tradition that saved Dodd. How could we forget the Happiness he’d given us? Yet Dodd’s freedom came with a price. Carman’s bills and an unavoidable 800,000 tax bill left him virtually bankrupt. Worse still was the toll exacted by the trial’s publicity. An intensely private man, Dodd’s jealously guarded personal life had been laid bare.
Nevertheless, Dodd had the last laugh. He still plays to packed houses, his relief manifesting itself in mischievous gags about tax evasion.
Ken Dodd in the Dock is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 9pm.